In 2002 the government promised that it would build the headquarters and the laboratory but has only accomplished construction of the headquarters which was completed four years ago. The TAFIRI Director General, Dr Benjamin Ngatunga, told the 'Daily News on Saturday' in an exclusive interview that lack of the laboratory and others are frustrating their operations.
"Our buildings are in a pathetic state. The Dar es Salaam Centre is supposed to cover the border from Kenya to Mozambique along the coastline, but we are unable to work effectively without a good laboratory," he said.
Dr Ngatunga explained that the absence of the laboratory also makes storage of their samples and equipment extremely difficult and frustrates efforts to secure grants and modern equipment from donors.
He said that the institute has centres in Mwanza, Kigoma and Kyela but nearly all the centres have dilapidated buildings that were constructed in the late 70s and are only surviving because of running projects that give them periodic facelifts.
TAFIRI was formed in 1980 after the collapse of the East Africa Community (EAC) and became fully fledged in 1983 with the mandate to carry out research on all water bodies of the country and make assessments of fish species. TAFIRI also makes stock assessments; looks into social economic issues and supervises harvesting.
"What is worrying is that we have invested so much in human resources and are concerned that when the 16 workers who are undergoing Masters Degrees and PHDs are through, they are bound to be frustrated because we lack the basic infrastructure," he said. Dr Ngatunga revealed that the institute was now embarking on a fresh five-year strategic plan that will include a research agenda, something that wasn't there in previous years.
He said that change of attitude was evitable in how the fisheries industry is conducted with the knowledge that fish are a limited resource although venturing into fish farming was paramount. TAFIRI has included research themes in its agenda. These include fish and fishery product quality, standards and marketing; aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity, climate change and environment, aquaculture and socio-economics.
"Mandates have to change. We need to venture into fish farming. We need to start now in spite of the challenges of getting good fish species and good feeds," he said. Dr Ngatunga said that neighbouring Uganda has gone quite far in fish farming. He said that they have made such strides because they were serious and did not mix the venture with politics.
He added that Tanzania was endowed with many water bodies and that there was a need to build on fish farming while continuing to harvest sustainably in natural settings. He, however, called for controlled entry into aquaculture activities. He revealed that Tanzania had responded to the directives issued by the EAC ministers' committee on the research of domesticating the Nile Perch, saying that trials had started in collaboration with Uganda.
The DG said that the aim of the trials is to find a breakthrough in coming up with palatable feeds instead of feeding the Nile Perch with live fish which will be a cumbersome and costly undertaking.